Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Research Book Post #8

May 1

Book: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

Section: More of Chapter 5 and the Beginning of Chapter 6 (Page 200 to 230)

Creepers and Solipsism
     Evidence of Indian travels to Southeast Asia is clear, however rather than being done in an effort to conquer or spread their culture, most of it was done out of a desire for precious resources and trade, which is evident in many of the names of regions being related to minerals, such as the old name for Sri Lanka translating to 'copper island', which while not grounded in actual geology, is evidence of why Indians travelled. These traders, however, would bring with them many important concepts. They brought with them literacy, a developed moral code in the form of Hindu Sutras, as well as a developed mythology and even a defined relationship between priests and rulers, which in many cultures had yet to develop, often leaving the rulers in a precarious position as to the power of religious figures in regards to them. All this led to an accepting of Indian traders, as well as
intermingling and the creation of a generation in Southeast Asia that was raised to read Sanskrit. Along with Sanskrit came the tradition to develop local dialects and alphabets of Sanskrit, and so along with the ten major scripts found in India, nine more scripts of Sanskrit can be found in Southeast Asia, each different from another. The first evidence of an Indianised kingdom comes in the form of Funan (or in Khmer Bnan, meaning 'the mountain'), a kingdom found in modern day southern Cambodia, which was first documented through contact with China in the first century AD. After this, evidence of many Indianised states appear, each attempting to tie itself to India either through its mythology, religion, name, or foundation myth. The names of these kingdoms and their rulers were typically in Sanskrit. One interesting factor is that the languages now classified as Burman and Austro-Asiatic of the region present before Sanskrit were almost the entire opposite of Sanskrit. Sanskrit has long polysyllable words, with a free word order, and a complicated consonant system, while these languages tended to have short defined words, distinguished by tone, and each in a rigid word order. This shift would have been difficult for the people at the time to grasp. Nevertheless, the quality of the written works in the region hardly differed from that written directly in India. There were also the formation of new Hindi cults, often used to strengthen the legitimacy of a new state by establishing a state-wide distinct religion, such as the God-King cult of Cambodia that lasted 250 years. Indianization only really slowed down in the thirteenth century as Mongols started to raid Southeast Asia, and as the majority of the population started to Indianize, the refined aristocracy found that it could no longer act as the guardian of Sanskrit culture in the region, lest it be compared to the peasantry in the region that was now effectively Indianised. This was furthered by the arrival of tribes from mountains starting to dominate the region, such as the Shan in Burma and the Thai in Siam, as well as the Vietnamese moving into southern Indo-China. 
     Originally, Sanskrit spread along with Hinduism, however overtime Hinduism was overtaken in the region of Southeast Asia by Buddhism, not through blood so much as through doctrinal disputes and dynastic shifts. While Hinduism's caste system was particularly attractive to the rulers and elites of the area, Buddhism was attractive to the lower classes, so while both faiths spread to the region at the same time, they influenced different groups, however over time the peasant's faith won out. This also led to Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit appearing in Southeast Asia as well. Despite the spread of Buddhism, Pali and Sanskrit remained as purely liturgical languages in many regions. This is especially true in East Asia, where often times Sanskrit was even represented using established
characters, due to the deep roots of Chinese characters in the culture. Sanskrit did have an affect on the grammar and structure of writing in the region however, helping establish the order of symbols used in languages such as Japanese. Tibet is a different story, with writing only appearing in the region alongside the arrival of Buddhism, and the Tibetan writing system is very similar to Sanskrit.
     With the arrival of the Turks in the region, under first the Delhi Sultanate and then the Mughal Empire, a group of people who spoke Turkish, prayed in Arabic, and wrote in Persian supplanted the ruling Indian class. They supplanted Sanskrit as the elite language of the region. Even the dominance of Sanskrit in Southeast Asia ended, as merchants and priests flooded from the Muslim world to convert the region. These regions converted to Islam for one reason or another, many believing the only way to maintain ties to India was to change their faith, and with this Sanskrit fell from grace in the region.
     Sanskrit was very attractive to foreigners not just for its ties to Buddhism and India, but also for its fleshed out grammar and systems, as well as it being a language which was used by the elite, an elite that felt justified religiously for their dominance of others. Sanskrit was also established as a quasi-universal language in India, meaning if outsiders learned it, they could tie themselves to all of India easily. It was also established as the language of intellectuals, leading to its constant analysis. It is also a language of oral tradition and prayers. The reason that Buddhism and Hinduism spread so easily was that they asked very little of converts, allowing for converts to easily incorporate their own religions and beliefs into the faith, as did the Mongolians and the Cambodians. The elite who first converted also believed they were opening themselves up to a wider world with more trade possibilities, then forcing their population to convert as well.
     The weaknesses of Sanskrit are that it tended to not have a strong defensible center, relying on natural boundaries to stop foreigners, which did not always work. It was a very conservative language not open for change, and it focused more on the abstract than the practical. One issue was that for a long time Sanskrit was not the language of government, with the local language in the capital being used instead. This ended around the time of Ashoka, with the rising popularity in Sanskrit. Another issue was that unlike Rome or China, there was never a lasting empire that lasted longer than half a dozen generations, and those that did form, like Ashoka'ss Maurya dynasty, fell quickly, leading to a time of melee between feudal lords before the next empire formed. Even foreign empires were not safe from this cycle. These conquerors would also, like the Mongolians of China, simply adopt the local culture rather than impose their own on the region. Buddhism also lost out in India itself, with the Hindi population overtaking them and seeing them as another cult, with the Buddha being a representation of Vishnu. While the Islamic invaders did have a much better time converting local culture, they by no means eradicated the importance of local languages or of Sanskrit, but rather put themselves beside it. In modern day, Sanskrit is still important among the traditional elite, but has been supplanted as an intellectual language by local languages but primarily English. Now Sanskrit is mostly seen as a trait of Indian religions or cultures, not as a dominate force in the region.
     Chapter 6 talks about Greek, and how it gave rise to almost all of Western tradition in some form or another through ancient Greek culture. The extent of Greek was spoke on a strip of land that covered a quarter of the Earth's circumference, covering land from Spain to Pakistan, built up over seven hundred years in what is called the Hellenized world. The main form of Greek spread was Attic Greek, found around Athens and spread through its ports and trade.

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